By Emil Danielyan
Several thousand people again took to the streets of Yerevan on Friday as the Armenian opposition sought to maintain the momentum in its campaign for the reopening of the independent A1+ television.
The crowd braved a rainy weather to march through the streets of the Armenian capital and demand that President Robert Kocharian, widely blamed for the channel’s closure, ensure its return to the air. They also backed the opposition demands for Kocharian’s resignation.
“This is a critical moment; it is now being decided whether Armenia will remain in this situation for another five or six years,” said Shavarsh Kocharian (no relation to the president), the leader of the National Democratic Party (AZhK). The AZhK is one of 13 opposition groups that have been holding street protests since a government commission on broadcasting stripped A1+ of its frequency on April 2.
The opposition and A1+ say that the decision was engineered by Kocharian, a charge denied by the latter.
“A1+ was shut down because Kocharian wants to resort to falsification and violence during the upcoming elections,” said another speaker representing the Hanrapetutyun party of former prime minister Aram Sarkisian.
The opposition leaders said they will hold a series of similar demonstrations next week to keep up the pressure on the authorities. They urged supporters to gather on Tuesday outside the Armenian economic court which is due to resume hearings on an appeal filed by A1+ against the decision of the National Commission on Television appointed by Kocharian.
Kocharian has rejected the opposition demands, saying that the frequency tender held by the commission was fair and corresponded to the law.
On Monday the opposition will rally supporters outside Yerevan’s Aragast café where an Armenian man from Georgia was reportedly beaten to death by Kocharian’s bodyguards last September. One of the presidential guards was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Poghos Poghosian and given a one-year suspended sentence in February. The victim’s relatives believe that the punishment was too soft and have charged a high-level cover-up of the crime.
The opposition will protest on Monday against the holding of a jazz festival at Aragast.
The A1+ has provided different opposition groups with a cause for unification. Kocharian and his allies say they are keen to exploit concerns about press freedom in Armenia for their political aims.
Hanrapetutyun chairman Albert Bazeyan said on Friday the 13 opposition parties have decided to join forces and try to put forward a single candidate for presidential elections due early next year.